The message isn't getting through

Comments (28)
By Peter Hadzipetros

There's a second running boom allegedly sweeping North America. The first one, some of us remember, was back in the 1970s, sparked by people like Bill Rodgers and his four Boston Marathon wins and writer/runner Jim Fixx. On this side of the border, Jerome Drayton's 1977 Boston win and Jacqueline Gareau's victory there three years later — after officials disqualified Rosie Ruiz — inspired hordes of Canadians to lace up.

Now, figures compiled by in the U.S. show that the number of people completing marathons has been rising steadily for years. In 2007, 407,000 people crossed the finish line of a marathon in the U.S. That's a jump of about 35 per cent since 2000.

While there are no comparable numbers on this side of the border, anecdotal evidence abounds. The Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, Ont. — held annually on the first weekend of March — has sold out two months in advance the past two years.

Canada's biggest road race — the 10K Vancouver Sun Run — attracted more than 53,000 entrants in 2007. They're looking to smash that record this year. It seems we're finally getting the fitness message.

Actually, we're not.

Last month, Statistics Canada came out with figures that show that barely three in 10 Canadians aged 15 and over participated regularly in at least one sport in 2005, down dramatically from nearly half in the early 1990s.

That's a huge drop. One that corresponds with the surge in obesity rates.

Many blamed a lack of time as the major reason they're not active. For those between the ages of 25 and 34, 45 per cent said they were too busy to be active.

The study found the decline in participation cut across all age groups, education levels, income brackets, both sexes and almost all provinces. It blamed an aging population that is getting less active for much of the decline. In 1992, 36 per cent of people aged 35 and over were active. By 2005, that number had dropped to 22 per cent.

Granted, the study didn't include things like yoga and fitness classes in its numbers. But I'm thinking it wouldn't make much of a difference if it did.

In 1998, golf surpassed hockey as the most popular participation sport in the country. The next most popular were swimming, soccer, basketball, baseball and volleyball.

And even golf is in trouble. In the U.S., a recent report suggests the number of golfers has been steadily declining for years and that the number who play regularly fell by a third between 2000 and 2005.

We'd rather watch than devote the time it takes to participate in golf or any other physical activity. Why bother when Perdita Felicien can do the training, carry the flag and we can feel victory through her.

After all, we have earned the right to sit on the sofa, drink beer and watch what heights others are capable of reaching.

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Comments (28)

Priscilla M. Koop


Dear Dr. D, Please don't give up on the patients you think are "hard-wired" to sit on their couches and wait for a miracle. Here's a very pragmatic suggestion. Prescribe the purchase of a pedometer along with some very simple instructions that ask the patient to wear it for a week and get a baseline average of steps taken daily and then increase that by 10% per week thereafter.

Really, I don't think that fit, active people understand the magnitude of the difficulties faced by people who are overweight and unfit. Fitness centres are intimidating places. High school gym classes are remembered with horror for a reason - gym teachers mocked and shamed the less competent students. Why would anyone want more of that? Fitness magazines and TV ads show YOUNG, slender models doing things that are impossible for many "couch potatoes" to even contemplate.

A judgemental attitude will have minimal beneficial effect - for anybody. Perhaps when seeing an overweight, unfit person making an attempt to become more active, a more accepting attitude might work better. Perhaps just say "hi" and give a smile - it could make that person's day and be just the stimulus s/he needs to continue.

Posted March 29, 2008 03:33 PM



It may sound like I am making fun but... could someone explain what health benefits one gets from playing golf? I guess it is better than watching it on TV. Granted, I do not play, too busy swimming!

Posted March 26, 2008 08:10 AM



As someone in the 25-34 year old catagory, the majority of my fit & active (and very busy) friends aren't involved in organized sports. Yoga, Pilates, the gym, running, and outdoor actitivies like hiking & bikee riding are the most common activities amongst my friends. These activities are often easier to fit into a busy schedule than organized sports. I don't think this article gives an accurate picture of Canadians'level of activity.

Posted March 16, 2008 02:58 PM

Lloma Jane Chase

Of course diets and gyms, and running rooms do not correct obesity or make one fit as the programs are so 'boring' and people quit. I worked around gyms (University, Y.M.C.A.'s, etc.) for l2 years and never saw a happy face. I was teaching recreational Ballroom-Latin-Salsa Dance and now have my own school (Alloma and Edouardo School of Dance). Dancers are constantly mentally/physically challenged into learning something that makes them feel happy and puts a smile on their faces---so those who have any ability at all, keep at it, and then they are interesting people on a Saturday night date in contrast to sitting on a couch, drinking beer, watching a hockey-game. Folks just don't get it as marathon and diet gurus and sport coaches are telling them otherwise; boys especially are blatantly told not to dance by their school and university Coaches who usually are very pot-bellied themselves. I think the emphasis is misplaced; folks should be dancing 2 nights a week for a total of perhaps 5-8 hours, then they would be trim, agile, and happy. Lloma Jane Chase

Posted March 15, 2008 09:16 AM



I agree with what most people are saying here - not considering walking, going to the gym, etc. is not a very good study. You don't need to play sports to be active, and it only makes sense that the older we get, the less we tend to play organized sports.

Posted March 12, 2008 02:33 PM



Dr. D., thanks for taking the time to chime in. I'm sure when it comes to being busy, you are among the busiest of us all. Could you -- and others who consider themselves extremely busy, yet active -- please comment on precisely how you fit in activities, and which ones? I don't think suggestions such as "Just do it" are adequate for those of us who already consider our lives brimming full, yet (like me) are sincerely interested in trying to figure out how to, and where to, become more active. Thanks!

Posted March 11, 2008 01:59 PM

Yvon Loiselle

Yay on Michael Hopkins! Read his comment.

Generalizations, exclusive "sports" categories... they don't add up to great research nor great articles. Yes, we have become a sedentary society, and the writer's intentions are good, but this alarmist article doesn't jive with me.

Posted March 10, 2008 01:55 AM



Ok first of all Tim...It's fine to be that passionate, as long as you make a point. Screaming at the forcast doesn't change the weather. Or was it you were dying to use vacuous in a sentence. Mike hit the nail on the head. I know only 2 types. Those moderately to exceptionally motivated to participate in one or more forms of exercise, and those who avoid it like the plague. The exact numbers I have no idea, because by definition...doing nothing is a non-activity I like to pass on.

Posted March 9, 2008 09:38 PM

Liz Bailey

I'm an overweight person working on getting down. The study was on exercise only and it was very limited in scope. A study that doesn't include nutrition probably isn't going to be very useful in finding solutions to the obesity issue. I have been exercising and was participating in organized sport for many years but I wasn't being very conscientious about my food intake.
Only 3 of the previous postings mentioned food. We need to start eating properly according the weight we want. If we learn to eat properly (Cda Health Guide can help with that), set weight goals and exercise, our obesity rates will start to go down.
Complaining about a study doesn't use up very many calories. What were the recommendations put forth from this study? As well, did it recommend exercise and healthy living for children? and for teens, and for adults?
Snow shovelling should definitely be included this year. Sorry guys, I'm in S. Korea and it's positively balmy, going up to 10C. today. None of that exercise for me!

Posted March 8, 2008 07:10 PM

Lawrence Rowley

Older people should be included ( say over 75).
We are nearing the end of our lives and our exercise pattern can have an effect on longevity and our quality of life.
Many go to fitness classes but most are women. It may mean that the husbands have died already or that they prefer the couch to going out on a snowy morning or have some injury that prevents full participation. Many classes make arrangements for partial participation such as sitting for weight exercises.
My own experience has benefitted from twice weekly, 3/4 hour, classes although I have a few limitations. The social aspect is a plus.

Posted March 8, 2008 10:58 AM



It's amazing how many articles there are like this every day all over the internet and the printed press. In my opinion, I think we are all getting too obsessed with food and with fitness and this obsession is what's causing the problem. For those who are unfit, obese, or inacitve, all they here is that they need to devote time, energy, money etc to go to the gym ,run, cook crazy meals at home every single night etc and for those busy wokring North Americans, it seems too daunting to attempt. So, as a result, the more they here about it, the more impossible it seems so they just give up and do nothing. If you look back in history, people didn't battle with obesity like they do today. They lived there lives, cooked and ate and I imagine rarely read articles on body mass index or low carb diets. Everyone just needs to relax, attempt to make as healthy choices as they can and enjoy their life.

Posted March 6, 2008 11:05 AM



The fact that exercise classes and the like were not taken into account is ridiculous. It more or less renders the study obsolete. I know many people that go to the gym several times a week, bike instead of drive, and/or run regularly, all of whom would be excluded from this report. Furthermore, participating in a sport is not really a good indicator of physical fitness or activity; many sports, such as tennis doubles or baseball, do not require any high level of physical exertion, but would be counted in this report.

Generally, the conclusions drawn here are seriously flawed and logically inconsistent. That there is a decrease in regular sport activity doesn't say anything about general fitness other than that people are participating in traditional athletics less today than they have previously.

Posted March 5, 2008 11:09 PM

Dr. D


I have always been frustrated at the lack of initiative people have to get fit or at the very least to get active. In my practice I try to get people moving, try to get them stretching and try to get them to break the inactive habit - but usually to no avail. I'm amazed at how many people have done nothing since they were forced to in high school.

As far as those who are somewhat active, I see a cyclical nature to their activity. I think Peter is on the right track with his article. There are more types of activities available but I doubt the regular use percentage has ever increased from years ago. It seems that some people are hardwired to be healthy and the rest just hope for a miracle.

I have been reading an excellent book lately called "Younger Next Year" which I wish everyone would read. It explains (yet again) the benefits to your health by being active.

Besides, activity is just playtime for adults! We can all use more of that in this hectic stress filled world!

Posted March 5, 2008 06:00 PM



In my view, Peter's article and the study from Statistic Canada are missing the point. What should be stressed here is to stay active. Activity comes in many many forms from traditional "sport" to chopping wood or scrubbing floors. Who cares if you run regularly or not. The important message is to stay active, whatever form that takes. Of course you need to balance your level of activity with your caloretic intake (ie. nutritious food not empty calories). Its really a very simple formula...balance the calories coming in with those going out. The vast majority of people have the power to exercise this choice (pun intended). Don't just think about it, do it, do it, do it.

Posted March 5, 2008 02:31 PM

Michael Hopkins


I would echo the comment that the definition of sport here is pretty silly. I'm a good deal more fit than any say, volleyball or golf (!!) player is, because I run (hard) several times a week AND lift weights. But because I don't compete in these, I'm not considered a sport player. What does this have to do with the fitness message Peter is (supposedly) talking about?

If you go to page 17 of the statscan report, you'll find that the 2005 survey says 51% of Canadians over the age of 12 are active, vs. 46% in 1998. So despite the decline in *sports* participation (probably due to an aging population that is now favouring individual or non-competitive based activity), people are actually MORE active than they were in 1998.

As a Physical Education/Kinesiology major (and someone who is formerly obese), I couldn't agree more that people need to be more active. But please check your facts a little more strongly, Peter, before making these kinds of sweeping, inaccurate generalizations based on incomplete data. Try digging a little deeper into the research.

Posted March 5, 2008 11:44 AM



Good GOD, the message is not getting through?!?!?! The one about fitness, you mean?


If the message about global warming (the "we're all going to die" message - surely you've heard it) is not getting through, then why in !@#$%^&'s name should a message about some people's fitness get "through"? Answer me THAT, you confounded, blinded Genius!!

[I'm serious. Your whining is worse than vacuous, sir. Go write a story about the deck chairs on the Titanic, it's right up your alley.]

Posted March 3, 2008 04:42 PM



Walking and gardening are not really activities that promote fitness...sure it is better than doing nothing, but you can go to any hospital in the country and find people on their deathbeds going for walks down the hallways...and spending 20 minutes pulling weeds will not get anyone in shape.

The fact is that most of the people in the gym are not working hard enough to get any real benefit...80% of them are doing curls or tricep kickbacks with 10 pound weights, or walking on a treadmill while reading a magazine.

Posted March 3, 2008 12:50 PM



I think there is an interesting dichotomy going on. The fit are getting fitter and the fat are getting fatter.

Many people who are into their fitness are pushing into more and more extreme events: ultramarathons, Iron Man triathlons, multi-day adventure races etc. Good on them!

At the other end of the spectrum is the so-called obesity epidemic in North America.
The study Peter cites backs that up, even if there are a few holes in it.

My grandfather is now 93. He got there by going for a long walk, then drinking a beer everyday. Shows you what moderation can do!

Posted March 3, 2008 07:45 AM



Articles like this interest me... because I considered myself unfit/non-athletic, until I ran my first marathon last October. I am now training for my next one in Spring.

I used to go to the gym at least 3x/week for years but only saw marginal improvements. I simply didn't know if I was doing anything right because I was "too busy" to figure it out. I assumed, "I'm working out, therefore I am ok." I wasn't.

I decided to join a running group (even though I hated running) because I got bored with the gym and still being "unfit." But with their support, training and teachings, I was able to go from zero to a marathon in 2 years. And I'm reaping benefits from the sport and more importantly, still not hating it!

The difference was that although I was too busy for the gym, I made time for running. (And training for the marathon takes a lot of time!) I have figured out "too busy" is just an excuse. I think the influx of long distance runners is a good thing and is due to another phenomenon altogether. These people may have already been a regular cyclist, swimmer etc. or maybe people are understanding running more (with places like the Running Room) which made the sport more accessible. Also, with these races, people have goals in their mind which motivates them to get out there to train and be accountable while getting fit in the process.

I think the "get fit" message is understood, but some people haven't figured out where to begin to increase their fitness level. A 20 year old boy gardening 3x a week, is not the same as a 50 year old woman gardening 3x a week. Although both are being active, the benefit for one person of the same activity far outweighs the other.

Posted March 1, 2008 02:35 PM



Obviously, this research is not taking into account that in Canada, snow-shoveling is a major form of exercise...

Posted March 1, 2008 12:37 PM

S. Marie


Agree - it's unthinkable in this day and age to do a study that doesn't include activities such as yoga or fitness classes. I can count friends in organized sports on one hand, but need all fingers and toes to count those doing yoga, pilates, fitness classes, spinning, brisk walking etc. Just because it isn't 'traditional' and competitive doesn't mean it isn't good exercise for goodness sake! I personally do yoga 3-5 times per week, pilates twice a week and brisk walking an average of 30-45 minutes per day - yet I'd completely fail your fitness test... Time for a new test.

Posted March 1, 2008 11:17 AM



I thought you raised some interesting points, especially the relation between increasing obesity and declining exercise levels. The stats on people being 'too busy' for exercise also seem relevant.

A few problems tho, such as people perception of what is a sport? I think we perceive sports as an organized competitive event. I think our culture is shifting towards fitness classes etc, think of the increase in the number of gyms, such as Curves? I think a significant percent of the population participate in yoga or pilates, This is important if the Government, or people such as yourself want to encourage our culture to become more active.

Posted March 1, 2008 07:17 AM



Gary Taubes questions the link between exercise levels and obesity, claiming that in past generations doctors were more likely to prescribe bedrest than exertion as a weight loss program.
Heavy exercise is good for heart, lungs, etc. but the problem is it makes us eat more. From his point of view the solution to obesity lies with food intake rather than sport.

Posted March 1, 2008 12:57 AM



If you add walkers and gardeners, you'd add thousands of very fit people. Not all activity is organized.

Posted February 29, 2008 05:03 PM

Peter Hadzipetros


Let me clarify my point. Mark, you know several people who are in yoga and fitness classes who don't play golf or hockey. I know a lot of people who run and go to yoga, spinning, and other fitness classes. Yes, those classes are often booked solid and hard to get into often because - as Cait notes - the people who do go, go several times a week. What I'm saying - and what these studies seem to indicate - is that despite this focus on fitness, fewer people are out there doing it.

Posted February 29, 2008 02:19 PM

Mark Daye

To say, "Granted, the study didn't include things like yoga and fitness classes in its numbers. But I'm thinking it wouldn't make much of a difference if it did." is just about the stupidest thing I have read today. I know several people who regularly participate in fitness classes and specifically yoga on a regular basis, but don't play hockey or golf. You need to wake up and get with it man.

Posted February 29, 2008 01:35 PM



How can you possibly say something like...
"Granted, the study didn't include things like yoga and fitness classes in its numbers. But I'm thinking it wouldn't make much of a difference if it did. "

Of my friends, probably 10% or less play sports, but a solid 60-70% go to the gym/yoga/fitness classes 2-4 times a week.

Posted February 29, 2008 12:10 PM


Very well done, I especially liked the last segement of the article it was funny. And well I'm trying to do that by taking a jog around the block with my friend Sydney (that lives across the street) every Sunday and I have a soccer game every Sunday and a practice every Friday and I have gym three times a week for an hour each time.

Posted February 28, 2008 08:02 PM

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